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Iowa appeals court: Former waitress did not "borrow" elderly ward's truck

old truck
The Iowa Supreme Court doubted a former waitress's explanation that she was merely "borrowing" an elderly ward's pickup.

In State v. Finch, the Iowa Court of Appeals examined whether, in a criminal charge of Operating Without Owner's Consent, a defendant could legally persuade an elderly ward to loan a truck to her. A ward needs someone else, called a conservator, to manage their money and property. That legal entity and relationship is called a conservatorship.

In Finch, a conservator managed property and controlled finances for an elderly man. The conservator grew concerned that the defendant began frequently visiting the ward and even borrowed his truck. According to the Iowa Court of Appeals opinion, the ward met the defendant in 2011 when she worked at the Hy-Vee café and the two discovered that the ward had known her grandfather.

The conservator called police to tell them that the defendant could not obtain proper consent from the old man to borrow his truck because a conservatorship was established to safeguard his property. When police showed up, they questioned the old man and he said the waitress had his permission to drive his truck. When the conservator talked to the old man, the ward told her that it was “none of your business.” Now well apprised of the conservatorship, police warned the waitress not to drive the truck any more.

Police returned a second time reference the same complaint and arrested the waitress for operating a motor vehicle without owner’s consent, driving without a license, and no insurance.

At trial, the defendant was convicted of Operating a Motor Vehicle Without Owner's Consent.

Prior to trial, the State moved to limit the introduction of evidence about the elderly man’s “consent.” The State argued that as a matter of law, a ward whose assets are being managed by a conservator cannot give actual consent to loan someone a truck.

At first, the Court found it was a matter for the fact finder. At trial, however, the Court held that it would not hear evidence of the ward’s consent and that it was the conservator who handled those decisions by law. The former waitress was found guilty of not obtaining proper consent from the conservator before borrowing the old man's truck. The waitress appealed.

On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court. It stated that the waitress was on notice for months that the elderly man had a conservator managing his money. The waitress challenged the conservator’s exclusive control of the assets arguing that the law does not “restrict[] access to the use of the [truck] by anyone other than the conservator and her authorized users.” Basically, the waitress argued that either the conservator or the old man could loan the waitress the truck.

However, the Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that the waitress was on notice that someone other than the old man controlled his property, including the truck, and that a conservator’s powers to restrict access to the truck were nowhere limited in the law or in the documents that established her authority.

Note: David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no involvement in this Iowa criminal case. Additional appeals may be possible in this case.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a crime in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, contact us for a free initial consultation. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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